Sex vs. Gender
It always rankles me a bit when I see gender used in place of sex out of an overwrought sense of political correctness.
Now, comes this observation from Stephanie Sanders, associate director of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, quoted in the Indiana University alumni magazine:
There's a lot of sloppy terminology out there, and that's not helping things. ...And so, I might add, is the assertion made in some quarters that "gender" is better because using "sex" will give people the wrong (read: nasty) impression. That's only if you think your primary audience is a bunch of hormone-drenched 14-year-olds.
Just substituting gender in place of of sex for the sake of political correctness is silly.
As writer David Bricker notes: The words have fundamentally different meanings to Sanders and other sex researchers, as well as millions of people whose lives cannot be summed up easily by circling M or F on personal data forms. Sex, you could say, describes parts, while gender describes a person's psychological identity.
Much of the the time in what I read, we really are talking about a person's sex and about sex discrimination -- discrimination based purely on whether one appears to have male or female physical attributes. We should use it that way. That is not to say using "gender" is improper. If we are writing about gender identity, then we should use the term, and gender discrimination might well be appropriate. [I had originally suggested the military's "don't ask, don't tell" might be an example, but see the reply in the update below.]
But as wordsmiths, we should be more judicious in our use of the terms and not just follow the ill-informed herd.
Bricker's article in the November-December issue of Indiana Alumni, should be suggested reading in your newsroom. He does a good job of outlining all the myriad factors of gender identity in plain English, so as a sensitivity tool, this article is invaluable. Indiana, unfortunately, makes the bad decision of keeping most of its magazine off the Web. So while this, its cover story and great resource, is unavailable, we are allowed to access a profile of alumnus Mark Cuban that is a nice read but has much less usefulness. Here's the link to the magazine page, if you want to complain.
Update -- a reply, and a point well taken
While I agree with your posting that sex and gender shouldn't be conflated for the sake of political correctness, it's also important to keep sexuality and gender clear. The military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is not about gender. The most feminine of men and masculie of women are still allowed to serve. Instead it's aimed at sexuality. Many homosexual men display traditionally masculine gender traits, just as many lesbians display traditionally feminine gender traits. The military's hang up is not how they construct their gender but with which sex they prefer sleep.